Atmosphere: some grounds have it, some don’t. Some stadiums are over-hyped and others distinctly underplayed. But why is this the case?
Perhaps some fans set their expectations too high and are disappointed, or possibly people just like to exaggerate and reputations quickly get blown out of proportion. Maybe it is all down to the particular fixture. Or could it be that some stadiums just have a better ‘natural’ atmosphere than others?
So which stadiums, fans, and fixtures can genuinely claim to have the best atmosphere? Here we look in detail at two derbies famous for the level of raw emotion and passion generated among legions of fans on matchday, and ask which has the better atmosphere, Millwall vs West Ham or Liverpool vs Everton?
Millwall vs West Ham
It’s fair to say the East London derby has a long, chequered history. The interesting thing about this rivalry, however, is the fact that it has its roots not in football but in business.
Both Millwall and West Ham can trace their origins back to the late 19th Century. Millwall was founded first, by workers at J.T. Morton’s canning and preserve factory on the Isle of Dogs in 1885. The club drew support from much of the surrounding East London riverside area, until a rival company, the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company (based on the other side of the river), started a football team 10 years later that would become West Ham.
The great rivalry between the two sides resulted from fierce competition for contracts between these two businesses: when one won a contract the other was also bidding for, workers took their frustration out on the football pitch.
While the two sets of supporters originated from different groups of dockers in one of London’s more working-class areas there are now, partly due to the Olympic regeneration, many stadiums, shopping malls and hotels in East London.
But even thought the docks have now all closed the rivalry has not cooled, if anything the change in the area has transformed the meaning of the fixture altogether. Meetings over the last few decades, in particular the 80s, have been marred by violence and pitch invasions; although it is important to note that these do not constitute a ‘great atmosphere’.
It is undoubtedly one of the most fractious fixtures in English football and anyone who has been to one of the games will know what it holds. Yet, for many, with so much of the attention leading up to the game focused on possible crowd troubles rather than the football, it is hard to ascribe it the accolade of having the ‘best atmosphere’.
After all, to say that a ‘great atmosphere’ has the inherent negative connotations of violence and unrest is simply not true. Atmosphere should be about the excitement of the game and the enjoyment it can bring rather than the anger it can incite.
Liverpool vs Everton
The Merseyside derby is undoubtedly one of the greatest UK football rivalries. While the fixture has seen more red cards than any other since the Premier League’s inception, the same angst cannot be attributed to the fans and general atmosphere of the game.
In fact, at the 1984 League Cup Final between the two clubs, which Liverpool won, large sections of the crowd were unsegregated. Things might have changed since then but the relevant point to remember is that the focus of the fans is on the football rather than their relationship with the rival counterparts.
There is something special about a derby when it divides a city in half, particularly a city with such a distinct culture and, normally unified, identity as Liverpool.
The one argument you could have against the Merseyside Derby is perhaps its perceived lack of competition – with Liverpool winning 11 of the last 20 meetings; while Everton have only won four in that period.
Although West Ham and Millwall’s results have been slightly more even, the two teams have barely even been in the same league since before the Second World War. Liverpool might have been named European City Of Culture in 2008 but this derby proves that as well as museums and cheap hotels Liverpool can also offer one of the best atmospheres in British football.